Friday, January 30, 2009

20/20 Vision: First Day of Class

Are you signed up for Winter Studies yet?Maybe a sneak peek at the first class will persuade you to join us. The lecture is entitled "Visualizing Colonial Identity" but don't let that intimidate you. 
As the story of the Massachusetts Bay Colony unfolds you'll hear about hairstyles that Puritan ministers condemned for "inciting lust" and the clever ways the colonists found to smuggle lace from Venice. You'll get a teenager's view of the Boston Massacre and learn how a failed brewery lead to the start of the American Revolution. Plus, in a small tribute Valentine's Day, we'll take time to appreciate Ann Bradstreet's 1678 poem "To My Dear and Loving Husband." And that's just the first hour.  

Click here to register online or call the Museum to reserve your place right away.

The Flip Side of Nason

In the current Thomas Nason exhibition I've pointed out the modern elements incorporated into several of Nason's prints. I knew I was on the right track when I was able to examine some of his wood blocks up close. I thought the blocks would help to explain the process of printmaking and wanted to include a number of them in the show. I was very surprised to find that some blocks revealed a "flip side" to Nason's aesthetic. On one face of the block was a a typical landscape or farm scene, but on the other side. . .  well, let's just say the imagery leans more toward the Dada or Pop Art styles. This video explains what I mean.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Flo on the Go!

Just last week I was flipping through my stack of week old Daily Variety and was thrilled to see that the pre-Broadway run for the revival of West Side Story was getting great reviews. Phew! I just that week secured 50 highly desirable seats in the front mezzanine for museum members and friends for a trip to Broadway on Wednesday, May 6th. What makes this revival so important is that this version will be bilingual for the first time with Spanish text and lyrics for the Puerto Rican Sharks. Although WSS is turning 50, both the Arthur Laurents and Steven Sondheim who created the original version are involved with the rewrites—very cool. Click HERE for FGM tickets! Day trips are open to Museum members and friends and information is available online.

Wood Engraving Explained

Tammi helped me make this video to explain the process of wood engraving. The blocks shown in the video are two versions of Birches on for the cover and one for the title page of Robert Frost's 1959 volume You Come Too.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ex Libris

Shortly after Thomas Nason's death the Boston Public Library began work on a complete catalogue of his prints.  In 1977, Francis Comstock and William Fletcher released  The Work of Thomas W. Nason in conjunction with the BPL.  The book contains reproductions of every Nason print, critical essays, extensive indexes, as well as Nason's own essay on the history of wood engraving.  It is the definitive work on Nason that's been on my desk for months while I was preparing the exhibition.  In addition to a deluxe edition, a limited run of 1000 copies was printed.  

Our shop manager, Matt Greene, intrepidly tracked down the last remaining lot of these books and they will soon arrive in our shop. These are new, not used, copies of the original limited edition.  You may even find the deluxe edition on our shelves as well.  While you're shopping make sure to check out the the volumes of Frost poetry and other books illustrated by Nason on sale now.

Monday, January 19, 2009


In our current exhibition we're spotlighting the collaboration between printmaker Thomas Nason and poet Robert Frost. The two men met only once, in the Spring of 1961. Frost was, by that time, the most well-known poet in America. On January 20, 1961, Frost took the stage at President Kennedy's inauguration to read "Dedication," a poem he'd written for the event. The sun glinting off the snow made the glare too bright for Frost to read his lengthy work. Instead, he recited "The Gift Outright," a 1942 poem, from memory. 

The final lines of "Dedication" fittingly read:
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday's the beginning hour.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

See you on Sunday

I heard so many interesting questions about printmaking last night at the Member's Preview for the Thomas Nason exhibition that I'm thinking about adding an additional gallery talk focused on his technique.  Did you know that the Encyclopedia Britannica contacted Nason in 1951 to get permission to use his images in their entry on printmaking?  That's how technically admired he was in his time.  

This Sunday at 2 PM I'll be giving a gallery talk entitled "Nothing Gold Can Stay: Conjuring the Past in Thomas Nason's Prints of New England."  In this informal discussion, I'll focus on the melancholy evident in Nason's farm scenery.  Both Nason and Frost expressed, each in their own medium, a kind of despair at the passing of traditional New England ways.  We'll look in depth at Farm Buildings, A New England Scene, The Leaning Silo, A Deserted Farm, and Factory Village.

More gallery talks will follow, one comparing Frost and Nason and another on the modern elements in Nason's prints.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Being Part of a Bigger Community

So why would a museum blog? Be on Facebook? Share photos on Flickr? Or do any of the other things we are trying? The answer is, it’s all about being a part of a community and forming relationships. We’re in Old Lyme, so we love our Old Lyme friends, many of who have supported the museum for years and years. We live on the shoreline, so that’s our community too. We’re part of organizations that serve all of eastern Connecticut, so we have many followers from further north and, thanks to the Museum’s status as a destination, we entertain visitors from all over the world! And don’t get me started about our “niches”…art lovers, garden enthusiasts…kids that go to camp…Hot Air Clubbers…people who love historic barns (you know who you are)…really, the list can go on and on. The Florence Griswold Museum has a lot to offer and thankfully the internet is making it so much easier to interact with people, build relationships and bring our communities together. Just think, there could be a lady in Wales who loves historic gardens and has somehow found us online. Maybe she bookmarks our page in hopes of planning a trip to New England someday, or maybe she knows she will never visit, but becomes a fan on our Facebook page because she wants to keep up on what we are doing. Even better, let’s say her cousin has a friend in Rhode Island so she e-mails her about the Museum and one Sunday, that friend brings her family here for a visit. The world just got smaller and our community bigger! So to all you adorers of art, roamers of riverscapes, lovers of lilacs, fans of Florence, and people who patronize puppet performances, spread the word from Avon to Altoona…setup a group, add your comments, post your pictures and lets be a part of the not-so big world!

Here's the Museum's Facebook page
If you have a Facebook account, please sign up as a Museum "fan." You can also upload video and photos of your visit to the the Museum here.

Here's the Museum's Flickr page
If you have a Flickr account, please join the Museum's group and upload photos of your visit to the Museum here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Enjoy Being a Docent

I don't know who the docent was when I first visited the Florence Griswold Museum (probably in the late 1980s or early 1990s.) But whoever it was did a super job talking about Miss Florence and the Lyme Art Colony. I remember thinking, "Wow, what a great story!"

My interest in that story deepened after moving to Old Lyme about ten years ago. In fact, I soon discovered that some of the artists lived on the lane I now call home. Lewis Cohen (and later Frank Bicknell) lived in the house next door. Gregory Smith had a house across the street. Will Howe Foote and Harry Hoffman also lived in the neighborhood.

I began attending events at the museum to learn more about the art colony that flourished here in the early years of the 20th century. After a lecture one afternoon, I started chatting with a woman who was a longtime volunteer at the museum. "I think you might enjoy our docent program," she told me.

She was right. I'm a proud alumna of the Docent Class of 2002 and I've found that telling visitors about Miss Florence's boarding house is a personally rewarding experience.

And I've also found that once you become a docent, you never stop learning. A good example of this is the recent exhibition Bessie Potter Vonnoh: Sculptor of Women. I have always loved Vonnoh's statuette of a young woman that is in Miss Florence's bedroom.

From my docent training, I knew that Vonnoh was a noted sculptor and that the model for the small bronze was Woodrow Wilson's daughter, Jessie. Mrs. Ellen Wilson came to Old Lyme to study art, and the future First Family spent several summers with Miss Florence.

But to see a whole show of Vonnoh's works was to understand why she was so famed in her lifetime. And I also learned that after Mrs. Wilson became First Lady, she invited Vonnoh to exhibit some of her sculpture in the Red Room of the White House.

It was also wonderful to learn Vonnoh's personal story--that she was a very popular member of the Lyme Art Colony, that she called the summer home she bought in Lyme "a funny old place," even that she loved to dance!

We all have our favorite stories about being docents. I remember starting a group tour one wintry day. I had just finished saying "Welcome to Miss Florence's house," when a little girl raised her hand. She solemnly asked, "You mean she lived in a museum?" A perfect question and a great way for me to segue into the story of the house.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Thanks To Our Lenders....

Next week we'll begin to hang The Road Less Traveled: Thomas Nason's Rural New England. As of today all of our loans from other institutions have arrived safely. Our exhibition will be beautifully augmented by the cooperation of several other institutions and key objects from their collections.

The story of Nason's collaboration with Robert Frost would be impossible to explain without the loan of a number of rare Frost volumes from the Shain Library Special Collections and Archives from Connecticut College. For those interested in seeing even more first editions of American poetry their William Meredith Collection is not to be missed.

Also from Connecticut College are a number of prints that assist our show in explaining the visual history of wood engraving. These prints are a part of the College's Wetmore Print Collection, which maintains an excellent website of their diverse collection from Rembrandt to Hiroshige.

The region's premiere print room can be found at the Davison Art Center at Wesleyan University. The DAC generously loaned four American wood engravings from their extensive collection, providing excellent examples of work by Nason's contemporaries in the field.

Not exactly a contemporary of Nason, Winslow Homer was renowned for his wood engravings which appeared in Harper's Weekly in the nineteenth century. We are lucky to have one of Homer's Civil War illustrations courtesy of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum.

Finally, the argument for Nason's position within the modern American art world could not be made without examples of the country's leading American Regionalists: Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, and Grant Wood. The New Britain Museum of American Art provided us with an excellent example of each of these artists. Their complete collection of Benton lithographs allowed for the perfect comparison to Nason's work.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

From A Milkweed Pod

Here's a preview of some of the works in the upcoming Thomas Nason exhibition. This video takes a look at the 1954 chapbook Nason illustrated for Robert Frost's poem "From A Milkweed Pod." Several of these booklets, along with other rare editions, will be on view beginning January 17.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

An Inside Look at the Upcoming Thomas Nason Exhibit

Thanks for checking in with the Florence Griswold Museum's new blog! I'm the Museum's Fehrer Curatorial fellow, Amanda Burdan, and I've been working on putting the Nason exhibition together since my arrival here last summer. I'm really looking forward to sharing some new ways to think about the Lyme printmaker Thomas Nason with our visitors. I thought I'd give our online readers sneak peak at what's to come when The Road Less Traveled: Thomas Nason's Rural New England opens on January 17.

Thomas Nason was new to me when I began working at the Museum, but soon I learned that the Lyme Historical Society and the Florence Griswold Museum are the keepers of a trove of fascinating material related to Nason that goes well beyond their extensive print collection. Soon I was delving into Nason's personal papers, scrapbooks, tools, and more. Being able to immerse myself in Thomas Nason's world really helped bring out a side of the artist that I don't think has been seen before. It may seem unlikely, especially if you're already and admirer of Nason's work, but I think he was a bit of a burgeoning Modernist. Please check back again for more insider notes on the Nason exhibition.